I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour for Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck, a romantic suspense novel published by Crooked Cat Books on 20th February. The more I read about this book, the more I kick myself that I didn’t manage to fit it into my reading list. As you’ll all know, I’ve never entirely forgotten my dream of being a ballerina (unlikely now, I know…) – and my extended stay in Madeira last year did leave me with a love of anything and everything Portugal (and not just the wine, and custard tarts). Ah well, hopefully I can carve out a reading slot later…
It’s a long way to go to create a new life for yourself.
Classical ballerina, Flora Gatehouse, has no choice but to take a risk. Having failed an important ballet audition in London, she moves to a small cottage in a forest just outside Lisbon, Portugal, her only inheritance following her father’s death.
Soon, Flora is involved in village life, where fate takes a new twist when she becomes attracted to forest ranger, Marco. But they are off to a shaky start.
Can Flora find acceptance in a foreign land, in a magical place that harbours secrets and heartache?
I’m delighted to welcome author Susan Roebuck to Being Anne, to tell us more about setting a novel in another country…
Forest Dancer, my new novel, takes place in Portugal just as my previous book Rising Tide did. Instead of being on the coast, Forest Dancer is set in the mountains just outside Lisbon in a fictional village called Aurora near a larger town, Serra Glória.
They do say settings are so important to a novel and that they should “infiltrate the plot”. Deciding on the setting wasn’t difficult for me as I live very close to the real place. Although I call it by another name, most people who’ve visited Portugal will guess that Serra Glória is really Sintra. Living so close meant I could easily visit and check on details that I might need without getting on a plane. I changed the name because I wanted to use a little “artistic license” – for example, the fracking project in the book that threatens the forest and the village is not real and the mayor is not corrupt (I hope!) as he is portrayed to be in the book.
Another reason for setting the story here was that I love Portugal: it’s small but with a big heart. The country is 900 years old, revels in the fact that it is Britain’s oldest ally thanks to Queen Philippa of Lancaster who married Dom João I in the 14th century. She loved Sintra and it’s due to her husband that the Town Palace in the centre of the town is as it is today. Sintra is only about twenty kilometres to the west of Lisbon but, compared to the heat and noise of Lisbon (which is in itself a beautiful city), Sintra is a fairytale land of misty forests, turreted castles and huge megalithic stones that were hurled out of a volcano a millennia ago. It makes the best setting for a novel and I tried to include most of those characteristics in Forest Dancer.
One of the challenges of writing a novel in a foreign country is knowing how to keep the Portuguese “atmosphere” without ending up with a language problem. I wanted the Portuguese main characters to be well-rounded and relatable, but they couldn’t all speak English that well (and Flora Gatehouse, the main English character, who had just arrived in the country, couldn’t speak Portuguese). Having stilted speech and hesitations throughout would be very tiring for the reader, so to avoid this, I had some characters speaking excellent English (and I’m lucky that most Portuguese can speak good English). When those whose linguistic abilities weren’t so good I showed from the context what they were trying to say, or I had one of the English-speaking characters translate. To maintain the “sense of place”, though, I kept a few Portuguese expressions or words in but made sure they were obvious from the context what they meant. As my editor told me, “don’t make your reader have to go and look something up; they might not come back again”.
Another problem that can arise when setting your novel in a foreign country is that the author might avoid using local people as characters, or even stereotype them. In Forest Dancer I endeavoured to create a variety in the people as you’d find in any country: there’s Gil the national hero soap-opera star who aspires to making it big in Hollywood; a school-teacher who gives Flora her first chance at dancing in Portugal, Emmy who owns the kiosk and who makes the best Portuguese food imaginable, and of course the lovely Marco who knows so much about his beloved forest and would die to save it. I also feature a modern hospital with skilled doctors.
Weather plays an important role in setting your novel abroad. When most people think of Portugal they imagine the sunny beaches of the Algarve, yet there is so much more to the country than that small region. Sintra has the advantage of being a cool oasis – often several degrees cooler than Lisbon and the sunny beaches of Praia das Maças and Praia Grande that are just a couple of kilometres away. So, in Forest Dancer no-one sunbathes on the beach, even though the weather is amenable. For example, after a day in town, Flora Gatehouse is often pleased to return to the village and the forest where it’s cooler. One of the characters tells her that the ever-present mist over the top of the trees has a special name (but you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is).
To conclude, then. My advice to anyone planning their novel abroad is to find aspects of the country that the reader might not expect, but to keep it realistic and varied without stereotyping local characters.
And now I want to read it even more… let’s try an extract…
Two saplings had fallen, perhaps in a recent storm, and one had caught between two larger trees creating a perfect barre at exactly the right height. How could she resist? Especially as she hadn’t worked out for several days and her muscles would already be weakening.
A blackbird screeched a warning (reminding her of the Ballet Master) as she began to warm up her neck, shoulders and arms before moving in to pliés, ensuring that her back remained straight.
The forest was alive, a living being. The light leaking through the upper foliage was golden, an autumnal glow that was filled with dancing seeds, gossamer webs and tiny flies. It brought to mind the music the taxi driver had played on their way to Aurora. The melody of The Moody Blues’ Forever Autumn once again filled her mind, and again she imagined herself dancing in a floaty fine tunic amid falling leaves of all shades and hues of autumn. She worked through the routine of tendus and degagés as the music played in her head. She slowed into a final deep stretch, touching her toes. How good it felt to exercise her muscles again.
As she straightened, ready to try the routine again, her attention was caught by a movement, and she was in time to see a figure in the trees slide into the shadows.
“Marco?” she said, her voice low.
He came into the clearing and gave her a small nod.
“Were you watching me?”
He looked away. “Maybe.”
With thanks to Susan and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I have an excellent giveaway.
1st Prize: A signed paperback copy of the book (Europe/UK only) or
2nd Prize: An ecopy of the book (2 prize winners outside UK/Europe)
3rd Prize: A £10 Amazon gift token (open internationally)
Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
About the author
Susan Roebuck was born and bred in the soft south of the UK but was exported to Portugal after meeting her husband in London. She now lives overlooking the mighty Tagus River which is a wonderful source of inspiration. She loves being in her adopted country and believes that Portugal has a huge heart, which the world should know more about. Portugal also doesn’t appear in many English-language novels and Susan hopes that, now, that will change.
Forest Dancer is her fourth novel but it is her second one set in Portugal (in the forests near Lisbon). Rising Tide was her first book (third one published) set in Portugal, in a tiny fishing village on the beautiful, rugged Alentejo coast. One of the themes of this book is man against the sea. They are both contemporary romance/suspense stories.
Her first novel was Perfect Score, set in 1960s USA and is a LGBT romance/suspense covering many social issues of the time – including having to cope with dyslexia. Hewhay Hall is a dark fantasy which won the EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) Award in 2013 in their horror category.
Do pop over to any of her social media sites and say hello. Susan loves to hear from readers.